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Chamber names Citizen of the Year

The honor goes to Billie Noakes, who hosts a local access show highlighting Pinellas Park people, places and events.

By ANNE LINDBERG, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published January 12, 2003

PINELLAS PARK -- One of this city's best known but modest women has won the Chamber of Commerce's highest recognition -- Citizen of the Year.

Billie Noakes, storyteller, author, poet, local TV celebrity and marketing consultant, was to have received the award Saturday night during the Pinellas Park/Mid-County Chamber of Commerce's annual dinner.

Noakes won the award because she "is one of those rare individuals who always finds the time to help others," said Tim Caddell, a former Citizen of the Year and member of the selection committee. Former winners choose new honorees.

"Through her work, and with massive quantities of her personal time, she has always brought out the best of our community and helped to shine a positive light on the services, talents and successes of our residents, business leaders and city," Caddell said.

Caddell added, "She won't tell you about her many contributions to Pinellas Park."

Pinellas Park council member Rick Butler, another former winner, agreed Noakes was the best choice.

"Billie's name's been bantered about for 20 years. It was her year," Butler said. "She's one of those unsung heroes that doesn't get attaboys. . . . She deserves it."

Butler said part of the difficulty in giving the award is keeping it a secret until it's announced at the banquet. Noakes, he said, called last week and said Time Warner, which produces her cable show In the Park, had won an award and wanted her to pick it up. Noakes told him she could not understand why she was chosen to represent Time Warner.

As of Friday, associates were confident the ruse was working. "I think she's clueless," Butler said Friday. But if his experience is a guide, Noakes may have figured out the surprise when she arrived at the banquet to see close friends who usually do not attend chamber events. That's what happened when he won, Butler said.

"When you get there and all these people are sitting there, you kind of go, 'Oh-oh,' " he said.

Butler is unclear about when the Citizen of the Year Award began, but thinks it was more than 20 years ago. It's presented each year to an individual who has truly made a difference in Pinellas Park.

Noakes, 47, works full time for Florida Health Care News in Temple Terrace as a medical marketing writer. In the past, she wrote for and was editor of the now-defunct Pinellas Park Beacon and a music magazine. She is the host of In the Park, a monthly local access TV show highlighting Pinellas Park people, places and events.

She is a native of Illinois and graduated from Seminole High School. She settled in Pinellas Park in 1979 and, Caddell said, the city "hasn't been the same since."

Noakes has served on numerous boards and volunteered with agencies providing critical community services, including the chamber; Girls Inc. of Pinellas; the Pinellas Park Art Society; Tampa Bay Story Tellers Guild; Women Musicians Alliance; First Night and the St. Petersburg Times Festival of Reading.

She has been a strong supporter and promoter of the arts in Pinellas Park, offering performing artists a venue through CAMS coffee house where she welcomed performers of all levels.

She has assisted with fundraising efforts as one of the founding organizers of the Run In The Park and as a contributor and solicitor, helping Girls Inc. raise nearly $1-million to build the Pinellas Park Center.

Scheduled to receive Business of Distinction awards during the dinner were several firms: Ker's Wing House, the Wal-Mart Supercenter, Keylock Mini Storage, and Castle Supply Co. and Galleria Bath and Kitchen Showplace.

Installation of chamber officers was also planned Saturday. Alena Opyd, owner of Blue Chip Travel, is the chamber's president for 2003. President-elect is Gene Lofgren of Century 21 Grant Realty. Bill DeLong of Campbell Consultants is the immediate past president.

Chamber vice presidents for this year: Brian Manty, Concurrent Technologies; the Rev. Jimmy Hammond; Jerry Wennlun of PEMHS; Pam Combs, Schneller Inc.; and Ray Fisher, Keylock Mini Storage.

Chamber directors for 2003: Larry Steinlauf, RCS; Barbara Lombardo, United Bank; Jim Sellen, ParkSide Mall; Kent Miller, Sam's Club; Pam Scott, Escot Bus Lines; Rveva Barrett, Wal-Mart; Officer Jim Rexroad, Pinellas Park Police Department; Al Leo, Scott Buick; state Sen. Jim Sebesta, R-St. Petersburg; Stan McKenzie, WorkNet Pinellas; Andrea Schwaderer, Company Care; and Ralph Marlow, Harry Marlow Inc.

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